February 15, 2011

“Mrs. Hudson the game is on.”

And what a game. If by the time you hear that line you’re not already hooked by this modern adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic character then you are really hard to please.

Sherlock Holmes and his faithful friend Dr. Watson are characters that have existed in our collective psyche forever. There is a timeless quality to their stories that has led them to be rebooted, adapted and given a flesh lick of paint to varying levels of success. Most of these adaptations have rigidly keep this dynamic crime solving duo firmly planted in their Victorian roots but Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, both huge Holmes fans, have decided to risk the wrath of the purists by introducing these beloved characters to the modern world.

Moffat and Gattis with a combination of strong writing, great direction, and clever cinematography are able to take modern London with all it’s trappings of the new millennium and create the illusion that we are but a stone’s throw away from Victorian England. Instead of Watson’s Journal we get a blog. Handsome cabs become Black cabs and telegraphs become text messages. The famous 221B Baker Street at first glance looks like it belongs in the 1890′s but as your eye pans around the room you glimpse a flat screen TV and a netbook nestled atop a pile of books. The design choices feel organic and the blend between the modern and the past seems effortless.

Of course the one thing that every Holmes story showcases is the amazing deductive skills of the world’s only consulting detective and this retelling is no exception. The makers attempt to bring the audience into Sherlock’s mind and give you a taste of what is it to always be the cleverest man in the room. Some of the methods used to accomplish this effect may be a little jarring to begin with but by the end of the first episode, you’re eager to see more.

Both Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman (I had to get past the visual image from “Love Actually”) as Watson leap into the title roles with passion and dedication and it shows on screen. The pair have a brilliant chemistry. Cumberbatch gives us a fantastic performance as Holmes, a man very much ahead of his time. Unlike some of the previous incarnations this Holmes is arrogant, without being unlikable and injects some great humour into the role which never feels forced or out of character.

His dialogue is razor sharp and it’s clear that when he speaks everyone listens.

Praises to Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson. He is a great Watson and his portrayal seemed more in keeping with the books rather than the bumbling sidekick of some adaptations. This Watson is a military man, a man of action and honour who is every bit as driven as his new and unconventional flatmate.

From the set design to Sherlock’s attire and the brilliant soundtrack you can see every effort has been made to place the viewer in both past and present. It’s clear that Moffat and Gatiss are fans of Conan Doyle’s sleuthing duo and are trying to show a modern audience, especially those who are not familiar with Holmes and Watson, just how great these characters and stories are.

Sherlock is a perfect example of how to do a reboot. It is faithful to the source material without being slavish to it and knows when to put it’s own stamp on the story.

The entire first season is of exceptional quality and I am looking forward to the second.

In the meantime, pardon me for signing off, but the game is on…

February 9, 2011


For most Americans, the liberation of Europe is the story of victorious Allied armies, heroic U.S. soldiers, and European civilians freed from Nazi tyranny by American grit and sacrifice.

Hitchcock does not challenge the reality of this narrative but reminds readers that the road to freedom Americans rightly celebrate was in the experience of the liberated, long, destructive, and bloody.

By telling the story from the perspective of the liberated, he makes clear why for many this was tinged with ambiguity. We are delighted about their freedom but the high cost they had to pay is appalling to read.

In the hands of a less deft historian, this project could have come across as a revisionist attempt to question the necessity, or at least the manner, of the liberation, but Hitchcock avoids that trap. The stories he tells of the Normandy invasion, the Battle of Stalingrad, and the occupation of Germany may be familiar, but the prose is gripping and the perspective of the liberated new to most readers.

This is a remarkable work of history that also sheds light on present-day debates about the merits and costs of liberating people.

February 3, 2011

So what are books good for…?

My best answer is that books are encased knowledge. Books take ideas and set them down, transforming them through the limitations of space into thinking, usable by others. In 1959, C.P. Snow threw down the challenge of "two cultures," the scientific and the humanistic, pursuing their separate, unconnected lives within developed societies. In the new-media ecology of the 21st century, we may not have closed that gap, but the two cultures of the contemporary world are the culture of data and the culture of narrative. Narrative is rarely collective. It isn't infinitely expandable. Narrative has a shape and a temporality, and it ends, just as our lives do. Books tell stories.

I love old books...the worn leather covers, grand libraries with nooks and crannies loaded with information to sift through. There is nothing like holding a book in your hands and feeling the pages run through your fingertips, and, I happen to be crazy about old libraries.

One of the most beautiful books I've come across recently, Libraries, is by the gifted photographer Candida Höfer. Published in 2005 it is still available to purchase via used book dealers. Ms. Höfer's book pictures wonderful libraries from around the world. The details are stunning. Take a look ...

The color plates in this book beautifully capture seats of knowledge.  Stunning, isn't it?  If a picture is worth a thousand words, than this book is a Webster’s Unabridged.

I am reading...

  • scribble, scribble, scribble, Simon Schama
  • Julia's Cats, Patricia Barey and Therese Burson
  • London, Edward Rutherfurd
  • I'll Drink to That, Betty Halbreich